Feeling queasy? Anchor yourself.

Developing nutritional products for pregnant women: from Africa to Anchor Nutrition

Posted on July 12 2016

By Agathe Roubert

After a year working on a nutritional bar for pregnant women in Africa, I am excited to be joining Anchor Nutrition and continue developing products with health benefits. My interest in product development is the result of a long journey. I have been interested in cooking since I was young and even thought about becoming a chef, but I finally decided to study Chemistry at Eastern Kentucky University in hopes of becoming a forensic scientist. But my interests quickly drifted towards biochemistry and nutrition. I went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to complete my Master’s in Nutrition and I am now pursuing my studies in Food Science and Engineering in Bordeaux, my hometown in France. I worked on a nutritional bar designed for undernourished pregnant women in Africa for a year, and I grew very interested in product development. I want to continue combining my interests in nutrition and food science to design foods with nutritional benefits, and I anticipate that the time I’ll spend at Anchor Nutrition will be fulfilling.

Developing products for pregnant women is particularly challenging… yet interesting! The needs of women during pregnancy vary greatly from one woman to another, depending on their environments, their activities, their nutritional intakes, and even simply their bodies! However some conditions and symptoms such as morning sickness are unfortunately very common, which can significantly impair the future mothers’ lives and make pregnancy a lot less enjoyable than it should be.

I previously studied the needs of pregnant women who were highly deficient in energy, proteins, and many vitamins and minerals. Although the needs of American women during pregnancy are much different than those of women in Africa, some of the challenges faced in product formulation are similar.

Pregnancy is a time during which our sense of taste is altered and our tolerance for strong and unpleasant or even unusual tastes is low. Developing a product with both good nutritional properties and great taste is very challenging. Tastes vary greatly among individuals, and even more so among pregnant women. When I worked on my first product I was part of a team of 6, and every time we would try a new recipe we would get people with completely opposite opinions on the product. One person would exclaim that that last batch was their favorite, and another would almost refuse to take a second bite. And we weren’t pregnant! Some people are also very picky about the texture, others about color – it can become an endless discussion!

When developing a product, not only do we have to take into consideration the opinions of our teammates, but also those of our target customers. But it is sometimes difficult to relate to the latter – someone who has never been pregnant, or hasn’t experienced nausea, may have a difficult time imagining what it’s like. When I developed a nutritional bar for pregnant women in Africa, my team and I made sure that we used ingredients that would be easily accepted by our target population and corresponded to what they were accustomed to, even if they were not ingredients we were used to. We went with peanuts and papaya. When Neheet and Rupa developed the Anchor Nutrition Bar, they wanted to make sure that women experiencing nausea wouldn’t be repulsed by the taste. They chose a mild blueberry flavor, which is a fruit enjoyed by most and mild enough for people already feeling sick.

In products that are made primarily from natural ingredients, finding ingredients with high functionality is key. For African women, whose nutritional daily requirements are usually not covered, we wanted ingredients high in energy and protein. Since the product is distributed by non-profit organizations we also had to find a simple formulation with a limited number of ingredients that weren’t too expensive. That’s why we chose peanuts instead of almonds or cashews. Because of the high nutritional demands of pregnant women it was very difficult to meet all their needs only from foods, so we did add key vitamins and minerals.

During pregnancy, nutrition is particularly important for both the mother’s and the baby’s health. The mother’s diet needs to cover her needs as well as her baby’s. Some vitamins are particularly important, and pregnant women need more energy. Proteins are also crucial for the baby’s growth. In our product for future African mothers, we made sure that we addressed those basic needs. The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy also increase the risk for diabetes, which is another element that we took into consideration.

Developing products that are both healthy and tasty is thus challenging and can be a long process, but it is also very interesting and I am excited to continue in this field here at Anchor Nutrition!


Photo credit: www.thecandidadiet.com

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